The Vagina Monologues: Alice Tooms and Camille Hargaden

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First of all, tell me a bit about yourselves.

Alice:     My name’s Alice. I’m a 2nd year English Lit & Ethics student and I’m somehow the fundraising director for Vagina Monologues this year. I also have lots of other different roles around the university because I love getting involved with everything, but my role within this project is to organise the fundraising events and sort out all the stuff we do to raise money and promote the profile of Vagmons around campus

Oh my god, Vagmons! I love that abbreviation.

Camille: Sorry! We’ve just gotten used to calling it Vagmons now and when people don’t know what we’re talking about we’re like “Uuh, how do you not know what it is?”

A:            I’m fundraising director for Vagina Monologues, I’m also social sec for LGBTQ* which is loads of fun. I’m also a swimming teacher and I have a knee injury but I love sport! I loved to play it and now I love to watch it. I basically just spend most of my time chilling with these guys and having fun with friends.

C:            She’s a Gemini!

A:            I’m a Christian as well so I try to go to church as much as possible but Saturday nights in Lancaster often end in Sugar! That’s kind of me really.

C:            I’m Camille Hargaden. Hargaden is kind of… I’m told it’s Irish but everyone asks me if it’s Dutch.

A:            You can always put Camille Haagen-Dazs if you don’t know how to spell it.

C:            No! Well actually, people kept calling me Camille Haagen-Dazs so I used to go around drunk on nights out saying that I’m part of the Haagen-Dazs family and that when my grandfather dies I’m going to inherit 14% of the company. Anyway, I’m a French and Spanish student and this is actually my 4th year because I had my year abroad last year. I spent half in France and half in Mexico. What else? Is there anything else about me? I’m a Virgo!

A:            What do you love doing?

C:            Sleeping. And Eating. What else? I don’t know.

A:            You’re a fabulous cook.

C:            I cook meals for people, but then that makes them not want to cook for me because they get intimidated by my cooking prowess.

So, tell be about Vagina Monologues!

C:            Outside of Lancaster University, it all started because Eve Ensler was doing interviews with women about various experiences they’d had as woman. Some were funny, some much more serious. She wrote some monologues based on those and it became a play. At first she performed it all herself and then it became so popular and so famous that famous actresses got involved. I think Whoopi Goldberg, Clare Danes and Jane Fonda are among the bigger names. Then it sort of became a campaign as well.

A:            Yeah, it started with Eve Ensler creating this play of monologues and she decided to take it a bit further because she realised how popular and how empowering it was, so she started a charity called V Day. It’s an international charity that strives to end domestic violence against women and girls. Loads of different people get involved and the idea is that all these different groups of women are performing this play and normally they choose a local charity that is close to their hearts that is related to domestic/sexual violence and give 90% to them and then 10% of everybody goes to V Day. This year that’s changed and they’ve just said to give all of it to the local charity which is nice. It’s really cool – we’re still part of a global network and it’s still a community but we’ve been challenged to focus on a local charity this year so that’s what we’re doing.

C:            And it started in Lancaster is it 13 years ago?

A:            Yeah this is the 13th year. I can’t believe it’s been running that long, actually! It’s kind of become a really big thing. I know quite a few other universities do it in UK and I’ve yet to come across one that’s so…

C:            I feel like this group have a higher profile on campus compared to other universities. Obviously I’m biased but I think we’re one of the best groups to do it – I’ve heard things about other groups that do it being transphobic and that’s just completely against what Eve Ensler’s about and it’s just ridiculous. We’re very much all inclusive for any self-defining woman.

A:            I think the big profile we have is a testament to the women who have done it before us because they’ve pushed it and it’s sort of become a pinnacle of university life for a lot of people.

Who is the money you raise going to this year?

A:            The Birchall trust who offer a service to survivors of rape, sexual abuse and domestic abuse.

C:            We had a visit from a woman called Gail who works with them recently and she was such a babe.

A:            We were approached by a cast member actually and this charity was close to her heart and her passion for it really touched us. They’re an independent charity that was started by a woman called Christine Birchall in 1991 when she basically just decided to become a qualified councillor after retiring. She came across all these women who’d had these horrific experiences when they were younger and they had friends who’d had similar experiences and she began to realise that it’s not rare. People go through these things all the time but no one talks about them and no one gets help because they don’t know the help’s there. Now they offer counselling and support to lots of different people and are just fantastic.

C:            And they are so grateful! They were so excited when they found out we’d chosen them

A:            They bought us chocolate!

C:            Yeah! You know the Thornton’s chocolate that you can get the writing on? And they’d written a little thank you.

A:            It was adorable. But yeah! So that’s who we’re raising money for and they’re going come to the show and everything, which gives us something to really strive toward.

You two make up 2/3 of the directing team, how big is the rest of the cast?

A:            A little bit more than 40, which is fantastic. They’re all from completely different areas and societies and places.

C:            What I didn’t realise is that one of our cast members is actually in her 4th year of being involved and she said that it’s only in the last few years that we’ve had such large numbers – it’s just grown and grown and that’s fantastic.

The play is one that covers a lot of different stories that have such wide scope and deal with so many different things. Are there any that particularly resonate with you personally?

A:            I just love the scope of the script. Some are so hilarious you’re absolutely wetting yourself and others are really serious.

C:            If you don’t know what it is you’d probably assume it’s just women complaining about their lives or just hearing horror story after horror story about the terrible things that have happened to people. There is some of that, but it’s interspersed with other stuff as well.

A:            There’s one that’s basically about this girl who has troubling experiences when she’s younger and the way it’s written starts with her as a little girl so she describes as a girl would. She can’t really process what she’s going through, but the audience knows what’s going on. It’s a bit of a personal thing, because as she’s then growing up she realises how great woman are (and I’m a bit gay) and she finds this new side of herself that she really loves and becomes really empowered and realises that the things that happened to her in the past don’t have to define her and that resonates with me. It’s also quite funny.

C:            Possibly my favourite is one called The Flood.

A:            Ooooh the flood!

C:            It’s about this old woman who hadn’t had much to do with her vagina. She had an experience when she was younger where this boy kisses her in a really romantic way and she had a “flood” come out of her vagina. She is absolutely traumatised by it because he reacted really badly and she was mortified and then just never went back here again and then later she has to have everything removed. There’s a generational thing. She’s like “Young people in my day ask about my vagina, what are you talking about?!” and the idea that talking about a part of your body that’s private is so taboo. There’s something about that that really made an impression on me.

A:            You grown up and you’re like “…sex”. No one talks about sex! And I know it took me ages to actually say “Vagina” out loud.

C:            Now we’ll all be sat in Trev bar talking about Vagina Monologues and we use the word so freely and people always seem so taken aback when they overhear.

A:            Shall we tell her about the tally?!

C:            Yeah, go on!

A:            Basically at Fresher’s Fair we had a whiteboard and we were trying to get people to sign up for the Vagina Monologues. We were there with lollies and pens and stuff and we basically decided to do a secret tally of the responses we got to the sign. Some people would just laugh out of pure awkwardness, some people actually physically recoil.

C:            One that really annoyed me was a couple of girls (and I’m pretty sure most girls have a vagina) looked at the word and pulled the most disgusted face. One guy burst out laughing, turned to his friends and was like “Look! Look!” and I was just like “Uuh yes, it does say vagina” and he went bright red.

A:            So we did a tally and it was funny. I don’t know if we’re meant to say that, but oh well. People need to get over the word vagina!

So there’s the play, but how else can you get involved with the Vagina Monologues community?

A:            Last year Vagina Monologues started LURADV which is the Lancaster University Run Against Domestic Violence. It was a really small idea to start, just a fun run on the side and then it just went crazy last year! Everyone wanted to do it – sports teams, societies, parents, and people from Lancaster. We received so much support from LUSU – it’s kind of the two of us getting together and creating this massive charity event. It was just fantastic. Everyone had a really enthusiastic and positive approach. So because it was so huge last year we decided to bring it back. It’s a 10k run, anyone can sign up, you can do it as an individual or a team and we’ve had about 70 people sign up already.

C:            There are two way of getting involved; you can run and you can also be a steward! Just helping us coordinate the event, direct people, tell them what to do…

A:            Wearing bit bright yellow jackets!

C:            And giving out water.

A:            But yeah, if you’re not someone who likes to run, you can still get involved.

Obviously this play is really important to you and the cast, but why should it be important to everyone else?

C:            Half the population is a woman

A:            More than half!

C:            So, over half the population is a woman and the monologues cover a multitude of experiences that woman have. I understand that there’s a lot of people who roll their eyes and think it’s just a load of angry feminists and that’s not at all how I see it. It’s not at all man hating. There’s one monologue where there’s a woman who was completely disconnected from her vagina and thought of it just as a piece of furniture, and then she meets this guy called Bob who teaches her to love her it. I think that every man in the world is influenced by women, whether it’s your mum or sister or friends and everyone needs to appreciate that some of those women go through certain experiences and people need to appreciate that women should be celebrated. I think there’s definitely a culture of men being put first and put forward more. In a lot of cultures still, women are there almost as an assistant to someone and I think this play is just bringing women forward and saying actually we’re fucking fabulous too.

A:            It’s a celebration of women and it’s a celebration of people. The cast is exclusively self defining women but anyone can come and see the play. It’s for everyone and it’s just a celebration of how we’re all so different and the fact that it’s alright. It sounds so cheesy, but you sort of become part of a community when you see the play and it’s something a lot of people share and it’s close to a lot of people’s hearts. If you have an expectation of it, come and see it because it’ll blow your mind.

The Vagina Monologues is showing in the Nuffield Theatre on the 12-14th February. Tickets can be purchased from the Live at LICA website. Information about the Vagina Monologues, LURADV and how to donate can all be found at thevaginamonolancs.webs.com on Facebook at The Vagina Monologues – Lancaster University. 

Ellie Vowles

Deeply unfashionable and chronically unable to take things seriously. A lover of travel, music, food and anyone who will listen to me talk about things.

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